Sunday, November 15, 2009
Blessed Nativity Fast to all Orthodox Christians
Today, November 15 (Revised Julian Calendar), the Orthodox Church begins to prepare for the arrival of the Incarnate Lord in Bethlehem taking on flesh so that all He, the Logos, assumes will be healed (St. Gregory the Theologian).
Unlike other confessions of Christianity which are caught up in the secularization of their Advent season to feast and clebrate, although this was not always the case, the Orthodox have rightly taught that for all great Feasts of the Master which commemorate events done for us and for our salvation, we should approach that time with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. So, while the rest of the Christian world awaits the incarnation of the Lord, the Orthodox should use this time for increasing their prayer, lessening their intake of food and also certain types of food and giving charitably to others and the Church.
It is difficult for Orthodox Christians, however, to enter into the season penitentially. Everything around us is geared towards the secular. Even now, peoples' homes and businesses are being decorated for Christmas though we are a good full two weeks from the first Sunday in Advent on the Western Calendar. Even now, we hear Christmas music in stores, read about sales specials for Black Friday. All around us the works of the evil one and misguided people herald the coming of the King with presents and appetites only for themselves. It is difficult. If invited to someone's home, should we partake of the meat and dairy products there out of courtesy or should we politely refuse? It is a matter best left up to counsel with your priest.
Fasting is not a legalistic observance and it should never become that. We don't fast merely because the Orthodox Church has set up a time for us to do that. We fast to purify ourselves, to make ourselves ready to behold the awesome wonder of God Himself taking on human flesh because of our weakness. We struggle with our own weaknesses and shortcomings to begin to realize that the Logos emptied His Very Self to become like one of us. If He should do that as a sacrifice for us, is not giving up certain types of food with humility, reverence and gratitude a simple affair? We can fast the whole year, but that would also make the wrong statement. Christ said that it was inappropriate for his disciples to fast while the bridegroom was still present with them. At Christ's incarnation and Resurrection, those are no times to fast, but times to celebrate since Christ is in our midst, both in reality and mystically.
There are many obstacles present in this world that keep us from worshipping the One God in Trinity in purity and truth. Many times though, we make excuses because we don't want to be the "odd one out" or we just fear being different. I know my parents don't understand the benefits of fasting. I don't expect them to keep my discipline but they are kind enough to respect my discipline and I thank them for that.
Be reminded that the Nativity Fast is not as strict a fast as the Great Lent fast or Dormition fast. Fish, wine and oil may be consumed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wine and oil are also permitted on weekends, except for the final five days before Nativity. However, fasting from meat and dairy is not an excuse for you to load up on fishing. That's not fasting--that is dieting. And if you don't decrease your intake of food, how can you be expected to make up for your hunger in additional prayer. Prayer and fasting go together, our Lord says, to establish such a faith that can move mountains.
In this modern secular world, where fulfillment is the norm, we, as Orthodox Christians should make all the more effort to repent so that we can feast when the Master is among us. But in the midst of our preparation, let us sing out with hymns of praise, particularly this one which is the Apolytikion of the Forefeast of Nativity:
Make Ready, O Bethelehem, for Eden hath opened unto all. Ephratha, prepare thyself, for now, behold the Tree of Life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Holy Virgin. Her womb hat proved a true spiritual paradise, wherein the divine and saving Tree is found, and as we eat thereof we shall all live and shall not die as did Adam. For Christ is born now to raise the image that had fallen aforetime.